Worldwide, many contemporary Christians are experiencing persecution and even death for their faith. I have listened with sadness and admiration to accounts of those who risked their livelihoods, lives, and families by refusing to deny their faith in Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:29 makes it clear that as believers, it has been granted to us to suffer for Jesus’ sake. It is, in fact, a gift. And while we don’t always want every gift we receive, in God’s wisdom, He knows exactly how to give us what we need. Suffering is a dreadful but necessary grace.
While preparing to teach church history, I read some older accounts of Christian martyrdom and persecution from the first three centuries of the church. As a result, several things struck me, but two stand out the most.
First, it’s easy to admire the courage of these Christians with an abstract appreciation for their faith in the face of torture and death. It’s far harder to picture myself and fellow family members standing before the examiner and facing the choice between forsaking Jesus or suffering torture and death.
When I first started walking closely with the Lord, I was convinced I would die for Him. Thirty-plus years later, I am much more acutely aware of and honest about my cowardice and strong attachments to the things and consolations of this life. For all my prior blustering braggadocio about being willing to “sacrifice it all for Jesus,” I now have to admit, I want a tranquil and comfortable life.
Would I really suffer and die for Jesus if offered the choice? With all of my heart I want to say yes, but I’m also honest enough to admit it would not be easy.
In the end, I suspect I could only do so if the Lord granted grace if and when the moment arrived. Meanwhile, I am still trusting God to help divest myself of inappropriate and inordinate affections for anything and anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is an admission of faithlessness, but I hope it is more a recognition of weakness and desperate need for His everlasting mercy and grace.
The second thing that struck me is closely related. It occurred to me how grossly unprepared most professing Christians—myself included—are to suffer for their faith in any serious way. Most (but certainly not all) Christians I know have been led extremely sheltered and comfortable lives compared to the hardships of many contemporary and historical Christians. I certainly have.
Of course, if this has been the case, it is not necessarily something for which we should be ashamed. It is a privilege to be able to turn our freedoms and resources into opportunities to serve and care for others for God’s greater glory. And many have done just that. Lord, let us be legion!
But those who have lived in relative safety and ease of comfort should pause to consider: If life ever became much more difficult precisely because we are Christ-followers, would we, like the believers of yesterday and today, be willing to suffer and even die for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Would you? Would I? God grant us the grace to live humbly and boldly for Your glory, whether in life or in death.